Scientific work methods, devoid of any form of feeling
I was not particularly enthused when I was asked if I could join the movers and shakers of this land in this year’s retreat. But what the heck, there was no harm in listening in on one of these all-too-familiar talking shops if, in the bargain, I was going to sample the gaudy luxury that always accompanies them.
So, come Saturday (3rd March 2012) afternoon and I picked my carry-all and was at the ‘Primature’ (Prime Minister’s office) grounds and.......disappointment No.1.
A line of vehicles were waiting – for everybody, without exception. But what vehicles! Buses and mini-buses borrowed from colleges. I’d have cut and run but for the fact that in my company were ministers and heads of practically all institutions and departments in Rwanda: parastatal organisations, universities, insurance companies, banks, civil society...... Name them, they were there.
Looking at the buoyant eagerness these top leaders showed as they boarded the vehicles, I felt embarrassed that I did not share their gusto. Anyway, since Gako Military Academy, the venue for the retreat, is not far from Kigali, we were there under an hour and.........disappointment No.2.
We were shown to our sleeping quarters. And what quarters! Secondary-school-type dormitories, graced with what we used to call ‘double-decker’ beds (with their secondary-school narrowness!)
Thankfully, nobody was required to occupy the upper bed.... Otherwise, I could picture an elderly executive rolling out of his bed (ladies had their own quarters) and dropping two metres onto the hard floor!.... The rooms – with the spotless cleanliness that has come to mark everything Rwandan – could accommodate anything between five and ten of us.
After depositing our luggage on the top-deck beds (no wardrobes, hangers....!), we were given a tour of the premises. The simple dining room was nonetheless world-class and you could see that the food wasn’t going to disappoint either. But.......disappointment No.3. Our showers (necessarily cold!) and what in USA they call ‘bathrooms’, yes, with their trade-mark cleanliness, were as far as 50 metres away, for some dormitories. Imagine a pot belly, wrapped in a towel, ‘trekking’ to and from a cold shower in the chilly morning and you could as well be pointing a camera at yours truly!
Anyway, once we’d turned in and after the hearty night stories from the voluble among us, I could not sleep, what with the ‘roarings’ and ‘train-sounds’ from the throats of those amongst us given to rackety slumber. By the time I thought I’d steal the proverbial forty winks, it was 05.50 hours in the morning and we were up and away. Away to ‘chak mchaka’, that morning exercise of jogging, chanting, aerobics and anything else in-between. By 07 hours, everybody was ‘burning’ and begging for that cold shower. It was all our trainers could do, to restrain us from running directly to those showers until we’d cooled down.
What a rewarding experience, those showers!
After a sumptuous breakfast, for those who couldn’t hold themselves from enjoying its full richness, it was time for the crux of the retreat: presentations. And what serious business it was!
In power-point form, the ministry or other institution head on the programme presented the achievements of the past year and the objectives of the next, in concise, clear terms. Then it was time for discussion and those who had questions, corrections or any kind of contribution put them on the table.
Until the chairman of the meeting, now famously called the CEO, Rwanda Inc. – President Kagame – made his soft-spoken entrance into the discussion. He went ahead to punch holes into what many of us had thought was a watertight presentation, with observations that everybody felt ashamed not to have thought of.
Why should such or such a project take four years when it can take two? Why should its components be done consecutively over five years when they can be done concurrently over two? Why should such a project benefit two hundred thousand people when it can, six? Why doesn’t everyone get the sense of urgency that is required of us all? And such like observations.
After being torn to shreds, the presentation was stitched together again and the best options were adopted, to the excitement of some of us. Not that we were uncaring of the embarrassment caused to our institution heads but that the best was going to be done for the citizen of this land. And, to our relief, the institution heads also took it in their stride and pledged to take more care. And, importantly too, day one had set the tone for the rest of the retreat.
A new Kenyan acquaintance seated next to me asked: “Is he serious, embarrassing his ministers in public, especially in the presence of the national and international media?” And me, quipping: “This? It’s nothing. After all, here, unlike elsewhere, no minister is being asked to account for themselves in front of ordinary Rwandans. And, moreover, no head has rolled yet!” Acquaintance: “Tell me, do you know any other country in the world where this is the yearly practice?”
Well.........now that somebody asked, do you?
That apart, that evening I slept like a baby and missed out on the ‘music’ from the throat-organs of my dom-mates. Would the retreat were every month of the year!
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